Mg1 0458
Tony Stewart continues to surge in the NHRA. (NHRA photo)

Finished With NASCAR, Stewart’s Still Shifting Gears

One month ago, Tony Stewart was at the Daytona 500, casually conversing with NASCAR team owners, drivers and crews about his new level of involvement on the drag strip.

Stewart had announced the week prior that he would wheel a dragster full time in NHRA’s Top Alcohol division with McPhillips Racing, but as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and part-time member of NASCAR’s FOX broadcast team, responsibilities dragged him to the World Center of Racing.

From his spot on the sidelines, Stewart surveyed a unique starting grid for this year’s Daytona 500, which included seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, action sports star Travis Pastrana and NTT IndyCar Series driver Conor Daly.

And yet, the three-time Cup Series champion felt no temptation to make a return to NASCAR, even if it was for only one race. Stewart said, the NASCAR ship has sailed.

“I have zero interest in going and running the Daytona 500,” Stewart said matter-of-factly.

The retired NASCAR driver quoted last year’s champion Joey Logano as he explained why, adding that any driver who lines up has a 30 percent chance of finishing the race.

“I’m not going for the 30 percent chance. If I go, it’s because I feel like I’ve got a shot to win the race,” Stewart clarified. “As much as I love the Daytona 500 and I haven’t checked it off the list with a win, I’ve kind of just come to terms with it and I’m OK with that now.”

2021 04 17 Port Royal All Stars Tony Stewart Ian Madsen Paul Arch Photo Dsc 3891 481a
Ian Madsen (11) and Tony Stewart (14) battle for position during an All Star Circuit of Champions event at Port Royal Speedway. (Paul Arch photo)

If he were to return to any race on the Cup Series schedule, it would be the dirt race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, “since deep down inside, I’m first a sprint car and dirt-track driver before anything else.”

However, after weighing the risks and rewards of competing in one-off events, Stewart feels content in his retirement from NASCAR.

He’ll leave Johnson to carry the flag for “retired” NASCAR legends amongst the current crop of drivers — the Legacy Motor Club driver is set to race at COTA, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Chicago street course this season.

Stewart’s full attention, at least behind the wheel, will be placed on three things: a Christmas tree, a straight quarter-mile track and a win light. The 51-year-old is quite serious about his drag racing endeavor, but even more so, he’s energized with the promise of 13 races and, potentially, a championship hunt ahead.

“Last year was probably one of the toughest years for me personally, of not having a full-time race car to drive. I’m an OK spectator, but I’m not a great spectator for long periods of time,” Stewart said.

During the first weekend of March, Stewart was officially a spectator no more. He opened his Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series season at the Baby Gators at Florida’s Gainesville Raceway in style, qualifying sixth. Stewart lost to Cody Krohn during the opening round of eliminations for the Division 2 race on March 5. Stewart ran 267.91 mph to record an elapsed time of 5.363 seconds.

“There wasn’t anybody at the Daytona 500 weekend that can say they ran close to 275 mph. I got everybody beat on the speed chart at Daytona, whether they won or not,” Stewart said. “So if I don’t do any more than what I’m doing, that’s OK.”